Lynn | of Sweet Okinawan Chinbin and a Glass of Chilled Sanpin Tea

Kinjo-san walked out of the kitchen with a plateful of sweet Okinawan crepes chinbin decorated with pineapple, mango, berries, and a glass of chilled sanpin tea. It was as if she knew she would be expecting a guest today.

Kinjo-san’s house was in one of the small alleys running across the stone steps. It was a fairly large two-story house, it had a carefully tended garden with blooming hibiscus, bougainvillea, and many local plants Lynn could not name. As with all other buildings in Okinawa, a pair of dog-like stone statues flanked the wooden gates. 

Kinjo-san looked at them and said, “Shisa, guardian creatures. Some ‘English-speaking people’ call them ‘shisa dogs,’ but they are not dogs, more like lions.”

Lynn nodded and smiled sheepishly while the traveler in her knew for sure then that Kinjo-san was to be her helpful local friend throughout her stay here. The type who would feed hungry travelers, drive them all over town and act as local guides at the “must-go” tourist sites. In fact, a little out of the ordinary, even for hospitable Japanese, she may suggest housing her new traveler friends for a day or two. 

“Wow, these are-”

“Family stuff.”

“Really? Wow. It looks like a museum.”

Kinjo-san’s home was full of antiques, and Lynn could not tell if she was an avid collector or someone who discarded nothing. There were tea sets, scrolls of paintings and calligraphy, vases, furniture, and textiles. Many of which would sit nicely together with the exhibits in the Castle that she had visited earlier. Lynn hugged her backpack and carefully walked into the house. As she walked further in, she could not help but wonder about Kinjo-san’s life.

“If you are interested, I can share many stories with you. But first, let’s eat.”

Kinjo-san walked out of the kitchen with a plateful of sweet Okinawan crepes chinbin decorated with pineapple, mango, berries, and a glass of chilled sanpin tea. It was as if she knew she would be expecting a guest today.

“Delicious! Thank you.”

“How long are you staying in Okinawa?”

“4 days.”

“Where are you staying?”

“At the Goya Guesthouse near Kenchomae.”

“Nice place. Where are you looking to visit?”

“Well, today is my first day, and I’ve visited Shuri Castle. I plan to visit the shopping street Kokusai Dori tomorrow and then maybe a beach in the evening. The reviews for the Prefectural Museum are great, so I think I will go there too. Actually, do you, by any chance, know where I should visit?”

“Let’s walk Kokusai Dori tomorrow together. There are many hidden gems at the back of the main street that only I know.”

“Ah! But you mustn’t. I have troubled you too much already.”

“No, no, I insist. In fact, let’s grab a bowl of Okinawa soba now before I send you to your guesthouse. Do you like pig feet? There is a restaurant in Kenchomae that sells very yummy pig feet.”

No longer intending to be polite, Lynn replied, “Oh! No! No! You shouldn’t! I can make my way to the guesthouse! Really! And you have fed me delicious chinbin and sanpin tea already!”

“No, no, I insist. Let’s go now. I’ll see you in the car.”

Lynn knew there was no use resisting her new friend, so she quickly downed her last bit of sanpin tea and grabbed her backpack. As she looked around the house one final time to remember everything as best as she could, she noticed at the far corner of the living room table sat a carefully displayed photograph. In that photo were Kinjo-san and a woman who looked like a younger version of her. They smiled proudly without revealing a single tooth. With them stood a Caucasian man and two biracial children. Family stuff. 

Next to the photo stood a tiny frame, and it enclosed a painting of a woman in a faded pink hanfu. Her melancholic eyes gazed at a seemingly faraway land. A Chinese? At that moment, Lynn felt a tug in her heart and stared at the painting intently once more.

“Lynn!” 

“Hai!”

And off Lynn went to find Kinjo-san.


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